Four Poems

by Tiffany McDaniel

Taste

The day the peach ate me
I was June, I was July
I was summer and yellow flesh.
I think he yawned afterwards
while I left the earth on my heels
above the tree I climbed as a child.

Home

They say my father left today,
They say my mother’s old today,
There are fingerprints everywhere.
I’m not scared of the exact way
a firefly dies in a sealed jar.

Damn

When the miracle came, I wrote it down.
I still can’t remember to believe.
I step in this left weather,
losing both feet to frostbite.

Quiet

He dropped the rope down my long throat
She could not climb out of my stomach.
We decided to carry our shoes,
We’d be quiet enough to run away.

The Creator of Tongues

by Kristine Ong Muslim

Death Wish Billy

His legs were cut short.
His stride, insignificant.
He would never reach
the end of this tunnel.
He would have disguised
himself as an orphan, a child.
He would knock on our doors
if only he had learned to curl
his claws into fists. He would
ask to be let in as his only source
of sky was depleting. But we built
our houses so that the facades
would not resemble houses.
We had to confuse him, to let
him enter the wrong doors,
to lure him to the basement
where the black mold
and old parchment paper
took on the wrong forms
and preyed on small creatures.

As a Child

Before we read his name in the headlines
and before half of the jury cried when his
only surviving victim was put on the stand
and before he was electrocuted so we could
forget about how he had used his hands,
he was a child once, lived in a small house
in a small town by the lake. Nobody abused him
no matter what his lawyer said. He crushed
butterfly wings while his little sister cried and
yelled for him to stop hurting, to stop hurting.
He used to cut his hands at night and watched in awe
how the blood turned darker when left to dry.
It was a sight he never forgot. The pain
from the wound never bothered him; pain was
a luxury, a gift. In church, he imagined his body
vibrating with the piano, understood the secrets
of tautly pulled strings and the keys that rammed
against them. He dreamed of strings many times
before he finally used one as an adult. Eighteen times.
Then they caught him. He used a knife that time.
It was an accident. He went to summer camp,
ate a bug when he thought nobody was looking,
but then a strange thing happened, and he watched
himself from a distance swallow the dry crackling
thing down, down his throat where he believed
all gods were smothered. He believed that a string
tied around the neck could free the god and save
the host from choking in the god’s  screams.
He did not tell anyone about that time when he suddenly
saw the utter clarity of things. Even the grass below him
breathed. He did not want people to think he was crazy.

At Seven

A handful of television static was not a bad thing.
He observed his mother in the kitchen today,
understood that knives depended on the hands
that wielded them. He let a fly settle onto his palm;
the creature fascinated him—it dragged morsels
of the dead in its tiny legs. His cousin shooed it away.

“You’re so weird, you know that,” his cousin said.
And he did not know. He did not think it was all right
to whisk the fly away. His mother told him to wash
his hands, and the water was cold and elusive—
always avoiding his grasp, always attracted to the throat
of the drain, that dark, filthy small town repository.

The next day at the lake, he told his cousin a secret:
the hinges rust every time you hold the door open
to strangers, but the rust gets scraped off when the door
is locked. His cousin laughed. “You really are nuts,”
his cousin said. And the lake before them was a sliver
of light. It heard his cousin’s laughter and became still.

He wanted to be like that—a surface of light that would
not flinch. Silent, silent beautiful film of light. He smiled
at his cousin. To facilitate drowning, he held his cousin’s
head down much, much longer than necessary until it was
all right to let go. Everybody believed it was an accident.

At Eight

Salt kept the wildness in check, reminded him of home.
He smeared a handful of salt against the crisscross
of superficial cuts on his palm, and he heard instead of felt
the pain spread across his arm. It was wildfire—the sizzle
of pain as it followed the axis signaling the vulnerable
hemispheres of the body. He would have to wash away the salt
before dinnertime. His mother had taught him that far—
to never talk to strangers, to never skip Sunday Mass,
to never slouch, to never ask for more than what was given,
to never tug at the tablecloth, to never forget to say grace
before every meal, to say “please” when asking for the potatoes,
to not partake of any variations of the same hunger.

At Eleven

Today, he heard the word autistic from his Aunt Marcia.
She was talking in the kitchen, and he understood
by the abundance of pauses and restrained gasps
that they were talking about him. Knowing which
of the steps creaked, he tiptoed down the stairs,
caught a glimpse of his mother. She was crying,
was making tattered roses out of the table napkins.
Did he do anything wrong? Did he let her down again?
He went up the stairs, followed the parallel paths of light
offered by the blinds onto the floor. He thought he saw
his bedroom door open on its own. Somebody wanted in.
Somebody was lost. Somebody wanted to be found.
When he closed the door, his hands started to shake.
When he closed the door, he dirtied the wood with his grasp.
A year later, he discovered how a knife could still his hands.

At Twenty

There was a time when he wanted to stop,
when no door was wider than the one he held
in his hand. He remembered the story
about the murderer who hid the bodies
under his tongue; those bodies did not exist.
At twenty, he still believed that he was
a lost fragment of a hate letter.
He knew how it was to love.

The Creator of Tongues

All tongues were grafted in places
where they could learn to deceive:
Voices, he told the jury. They made me
do it. And they believed him, sent him
to the asylum that was supposed
to end his corruption of flesh.
Snow existed only in his imagination,
but it chilled just the same. The orderly
complained about the draft in his room.
Nobody could find its source. Two days later,
he ate the heart of another patient.
Then he called his room a bone garden,
where a compass point dangled to his will.
You should have killed me earlier, while you
still could. The shackles held him for a while.
His cell was found empty the next morning,
the lock intact. And every Sunday, he brought
an offering to the mental hospital’s director,
placed it under the brass plaque: a handful
of seeds, fingers, grass, eyes, love.

 

The Bright and Morning Star1

by Alicia Cole

 
After the painting “Beloved” by Ray Caesar

 
15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers
and the immoral persons and the murderers
and the idolaters, and everyone who loves
and practices lying.

 
Tentacled wonder
from the depths of the hydran field.
Wriggling, never still; oh, Love
who lives in the heavens, thank you
for such a gift.

 
Inside: my bending weight
over the bassinette, his tentacular joy.

 
16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify
to you these things for the churches. I am
the root and the descendant of David,
the bright morning star.”

 
Intertentacular, the orbits of aprocyphon
and reportage.  The living saint
on the corner, murmuring crepe-paper
flowers from his sleeves,
begs to board with us.

 
Pater eius: my husband’s mustached frown,
tentacles writhing through his fingers.

 
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let the one who hears say, “Come.”
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who wishes
take the water of life without cost.

 
Awash in light, the singular light of gnosis:
this child, unique and luminous starform.
Many come to visit us.  We are “in the habit
of meeting on a certain fixed day”2.

 
Ante lumen: singing our hymns;
subtentacular, the son rattling along.

 

1. 22 Rev. 15-17 New American Standard Bible.
2. Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson 
   (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 199.

The Thirteenth Stranger

by Kristine Ong Muslim

 

The stray angel.

 

He hides his wings under

the darkest of cloaks.

He will not show them

even to his disciples.

 

He conjures storms, creates

gamma rays from plastic spoons,

magnetic blocks from wood,

and a perpetual motion machine–

 

a pretty little thing, not even supposed

to exist in four dimensions. He lets us

peer into the heart of that device,

where its cogs intersect the void.

 

We are building a temple

for the thirteenth stranger.

It will have the tallest church spire

pointing high up in the heavens.